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I Played 70 Hours of Elden Ring: Hands-On Impressions & Preview of the Massive Network Test and all Mechanics Within

After playing Elden Ring’s Closed Network Test some 70 hours this past week/weekend I wanted to share my thoughts on the new Open-World Souls-Like game being developed by From Software and published by Bandai Namco. Elden Ring is shaping up to be a game of the year candidate in 2022, but how will the open-world aspects hold up to other games in the same genre? I’ll get to that later in this article. But first let’s talk about how Elden Ring plays, and what I really enjoy about this extremely ambitious title. If you want to talk about Elden Ring directly with us, we’ll be live all week with Elden Ring content on our twitch channel too!

I Played 70 Hours of Elden Ring: Hands-On Impressions & Preview

First off, let me just say that the Closed Network Test area is absolutely massive, and is much larger than From Software has ever showcased in any such test, and was way larger than I personally expected. There’s absolutely no way you can finish it in one 3 hour play session, which all of the network sessions are, so if you’re playing on Friday then make sure you plan to attend at least one more slot, and possibly a third if you want to experience everything it has to offer. Your progress carries over from one session to the other, so no worries there.

Spoiler-Free Summary:

  • Make sure you pick your class wisely, the demo is HUGE and you don’t have time to run through multiple times on all classes.
  • The gameplay loop is to explore, defeat some enemies, gather equipment and revise your build based on your findings
  • This isn’t Dark Souls 4. This is souls gameplay and systems with increased RPG elements and exploration
  • ALL of the info from the demo is on the ER Wiki and you can visit it now (all weapons, armor, spells, npcs, secret locations and unlockables, etc)
  • Builds are incredibly more varied thanks to skill swapping, spirit summoning and the new upgrade system
  • Open World is fun but expect more Dragon’s Dogma than Red Dead Redemption
  • The Spirit Steed is agile and useful, but mounted combat is frustrating for melee classes
  • The landscape hides secrets so kill everything and explore everywhere, but remember From won’t give you the full version of them yet
  • Defeating Bosses with friends is still awesome and multiplayer is working well
  • There are some performance issues that need to be ironed out for launch
  • There were some minor bugs. Make sure you report any bugs you find!
  • The Legacy Dungeons are the older version of Dark Souls 3 but with a lot more enemy groups. Very multiplayer friendly
  • This article has minor spoilers for the names of bosses already seen in trailers. It’s otherwise a safe full read!
  • See our Classes page and Things you Must Know articles for more in-depth info

Taking Your First Steps

Stepping into Elden Ring’s vast world feels extremely familiar as the game runs on an upgraded version of the Dark Souls 3 engine, though Elden Ring does feel more alive and vibrant than past From Software titles. Trees sway in the breeze as you ride by, and grass moves around you. The lighting changes based on the position of the sun, and a day and night cycle, combined with dynamic weather really drive this home. Enemies also wander the landscape in search of prey, or perhaps with other goals in mind that aren’t quite clear.

What shocked me about Elden Ring (in a good way) is that pretty much from the start of the demo you can go anywhere your heart desires. You have absolute freedom to head to the castle in the distance, or you can head down to the beach and see the giant “Land Octopuses” (yes that’s what they are actually called). Or maybe you want to explore some Dungeons, take on some Bosses right away, and find some nice loot. You are free to do any and all of these as you see fit, and it’s like a Souls buffet.

So many places to go, so many things to see, and so many secrets to find. It’s a dream come true, even if it takes a bit to get used to the mount and fast traveling.

Elden Ring is like being dropped into a Souls game, magnifying it by about 10, and adding a horse.

And, just a note about fast traveling before I forget. It was a controversial topic I know, but once you play the game you’ll realize it was the right call. The world is simply too big to be running back and forth all the time, and there is too much verticality to not have it. Without fast travel you’d spend a lot of hours just riding to and from places you’ve already been, and while that may be fun for some, I think it would drain on most players after awhile.

Gameplay Loop

The general concept of Elden Ring is that once you step into the world, the little golden strands will show you the general main quest direction, and you can follow it immediately, or venture off the beaten path. There are NPCs, Dungeons, Bosses and loot to find, and interesting areas riddled with lore await you.

You’ll rely on your Spirit Steed Torrent to traverse the Lands Between, allowing you to get where you want to go much more quickly, even fighting enemies from horseback if you so choose. And all of this is packaged with classic Souls combat and multiplayer, that From Software is famous for.

Exploring the Land Between feels like a different game, then the combat takes you right into souls, and the character progression closer to D&D

You’ll take time in between outings to upgrade your gear, and change up your Skills to see what you like and don’t like, and in many ways Eldin Ring feels more like a “proper RPG” than past From Software titles. There is simply far more agency than ever before, allowing for many viable combinations and builds. This might be my favorite thing about Elden Ring, as I love to tinker with my Build constantly as I find new Weapons, Armor and Talismans, try new Skills, and get more Spirit Summons.

Classes & Magic

Having completed the Demo on all 5 of the Classes I can tell you that they all play very differently and will markedly affect your playthrough of the demo. So much so in fact, that I urge you to take your time with this decision and watch our video covering them, or plan on making multiple runs with different Classes. But since you’ll have a very limited window to play, if you want to experience the whole Network Test you should pick one Class and stick with it. There’s that much to see and do.

All Classes are very distinct in their gameplay, and given we are promised 10 classes with the full launch, I can’t wait to see how they all work

Magic is also the strongest it has ever been in any From Software game, except for Demon’s Souls. Elden Ring favors the ranged player, and Incantations and Sorceries are the primary means of dealing ranged damage in the Network Test, unless you want to use the one Bow available.

It’s really difficult to reliably hit anything while mounted in melee, giving ranged the edge there. Spells also have the advantage of being able to hit in an area in many cases, allowing you to face down some of Elden Ring’s larger packs of enemies much more easily. In short, I’ve fallen in love with the magic of Elden Ring, and I say that as a player who has hardly used magic at all outside of Demon’s Souls. The Spells are outstanding!

Weapons, Skills and Upgrades

One of the biggest changes you will notice is the ability to change Skills on your Weapons, allowing you to mix and match as you see fit. You cannot use every Skill on every Weapon, but from all indications you will be spoiled for choice in the full version of the game.

You can change these any time you rest at a Site of Grace, and I urge you to experiment with them because Skills in Elden Ring are actually very useful, and learning to use them properly can make all the difference. In some ways Elden Ring feels more like a true ARPG where you rely more on your Skills and Magic, only using your Light and Heavy Attacks now and again. It sounds crazy I know, but you’ll just have to play the game and see what I mean.

The new Upgrade and Skills system is a lot of fun to explore and is inspiring me to make builds like never before

Adding a bit of a twist to this, is the fact that many of these Skills (Ashes of War), also come coupled with different damage types. Meaning that you can add not only a different Skill to your Weapon, but change it to a Magic or Lighting version at the same time. There are multiple Skills that can do this, so you’ll get to choose from several Magic ones that have different Skills, and these Ashes of War also change the Scaling of the Weapon. You’ll upgrade your Weapons with Smiting Stone Shards, and change the scaling and damage type by slotting Ashes of War into your Weapon.

Item Crafting

Another new introduction is Item Crafting, which allows you to gather materials around the Lands Between and make consumables on the fly. These range from things that allow you to replenish Stamina more quickly, like the Grass items found in the Souls games, to Sleep Arrows that you can use to incapacitate enemies. Many open world games have some sort of crafting system, so it’s not a huge surprise Elden Ring does, but I didn’t find myself using it as much as I’d hoped. I’ve never been one to use many consumables  in the Souls games anyway, so perhaps others will use this more than I did. There’s certainly a lot to explore and discover for crafting that may not be immediately obvious.

Enemies & Bosses

Enemies and Bosses still have that same classic From Software feel, and some like Margit the Fell Omen, may take you awhile to kill depending on your setup. Others you might get the first time around, and some  have had their movesets pulled straight from other From Software games like the Tree Sentinel that will remind players of Gyobu Mastaka Oniwa from Sekiro. Or Flying Dragon Agheel, which is a combination of Darkeater Midir and the Nameless King’s Dragon from Dark Souls 3. Or the Giant Crab, which is literally the exact same enemy from Dark Souls 3.

I know that there has been some discussion about the reusing of animations and assets in Elden Ring, as many of these things have been lifted straight from Dark Souls 3, and honestly I was initially disappointed about the quantity of things recycled. However, as I made it further and further into the demo and realized not only was I seeing things pulled from Dark Souls 3, but also Sekiro, Bloodborne and even Demon’s Souls, I realized that Elden is the culmination of From Software’s body of work. Elden Ring is the game that puts everything they’ve done and learned together into one huge package, and the nostalgia levels are off the charts.

If you’re a new player, you won’t even know what assets are reused and if you’re a veteran of the franchise, I can all but guarantee the nostalgia will outweigh the initial disappointment.

Lore and NPC Background

If you spend some time talking to the NPCs, it’s immediately apparent that this isn’t a crazed world like the one of Souls. People have allegiances, backgrounds and motivations and these are expressed eloquently and without strange-sounding laughs and cackles. If you read through the item descriptions, the background of the world begins to form and you will gain a glimpse of how the involvement of GRRM may have impacted the conceptualization of the Lands Between. The schools of magic, the churches, the dragons, and even the travelling vendors all share in a consistent and well-thought-out story rather than the much more cryptic and fan-powered Souls counterpart.

You should certainly try speaking to NPCs multiple times as you complete content, as they will reward you with new dialogue that expands upon this new universe. The information is provided in a straight-forward but compelling manner, so you won’t necessarily have to rely on third party sources to fill you in on what’s going on.

Open World

Lastly, we come to the open world aspect itself. When we found out that Elden Ring would be Open-World, I think many people wondered just how exactly that would work in a Souls type game. From Software excels at expertly crafted levels, predicting the movements of players, and placing traps and encounters in just the right places like and expert Dungeon Master in a D&D session. So how does that translate in an open world setting where players action are far less predictable?

Well the answer is that it does so just fine. Elden Ring handles itself well enough in this aspect to justify the addition of Open-World, but obviously it’s not as good as if every single inch had been painstaking crafted and tested like in previous From Software titles, because they simply didn’t have the time or resources to pull that off on this scale. And the scale of Elden Ring is absolutely outrageous too, for a Souls type of game.

If you compare the Map we got to play in the Network Test with that shown by Bandai Namco Gameplay Reveal, you’ll begin to realize that the demo isn’t 1/6th of the game. It’s actually far more likely to be 1/12th of the game, which I absolutely cannot begin to wrap my mind around. I spent nearly 70 hours exploring every inch of the Network Test, and I know there is still more things there that I have not seen!

Elden Ring has no fog of war, and locations don’t appear on the map until you find them, so there is no real way to know what you haven’t found other than riding around places you’ve already been “triple checking” you didn’t miss anything. This can be frustrating at times, because you really do want to find everything, but you don’t want to wander around aimlessly for hours trying to do it. However, should it remain the same at launch, we will have you covered with the Wiki, so make sure you bookmark it because it will help you find everything!

Final Thoughts

Elden Ring is some of the most fun I’ve had this year, and I literally played almost without sleep for an entire weekend that flew by. And I was just playing what is likely just a small fraction of this massive game. I finished the demo with each and every Class, and tested all spells and most of the weapons and their skills, and I have a fairly good idea of what the Network Test has to offer, and it is grand indeed.

However, it’s the unknowns that have me most curious. There are very few Weapons and Armor in the demo, and From Software has stated there would be more than Dark Souls 3 when tallied up. This means From Software is holding the vast majority of its content back for full release, so you are only seeing but a scratch of what Elden Ring has to offer. As good as Elden Ring is with so little of what they have being used, I can’t even imagine what it will be like when all of their content is present in the game. We will likely have to “hunt” for all it’s secrets together, and I simply cannot wait until February.

Stay tuned for more Elden Ring coverage as we cover all 5 Classes in the Network Test, give you some helpful tips if you’ll be playing on Friday (spoiler free as much as possible), and for those that can’t play a video highlighting all the Weapons, Spells, Armor and Skills available in the demo, and maybe a few Bosses too.

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